Chittagong University, Chittagong, Bangladesh, 1968-71
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Muzharul Islam was given a large extent of hilly terrain to design the new Chittagong University in the site was away from the main city and a shuttle train took the students from the city to the campus while the vast majority of the students were residential. The extensive program included several faculties’ administrative buildings teachers and staff housings and elaborate accommodation for the students.
Muzharul Islam’s analysis of the site was a unique understanding of the earthen and sandy soil hills of Bangladesh. This kind of terrain made buildings on the top or the slope of the hills almost impossible or if possible at formidable cost. The harsh monsoon and heavy rainfall in that area demanded that the natural water courses low lands and water bodies strictly maintained to avoid any disruption of the ecological system.
Muzharul Islam studied these apparent restraints carefully. And then from them derived an ingenious way of placing buildings and connecting them. The buildings were all placed in the valleys or at the foot of the hills. This would set the building against a wonderful set back of the hills themselves avoiding the complexity and the ecological disturbance that would have taken place if the building were set on the slops or the top of the hills. As one enters the buildings one is situated in a close dialogue with the rising slops of the hills behind. This magical space between the building and the slop of the hills that is created by the close proximity of the slops and the buildings is truly his creation and gift to the inhabitants of the campus.
In every building the circulation areas are set in this dialogue with nature and the setting. All the buildings are connected in a wonderful geometry of angular lines passing between the hills through the valleys. As if Muzharul Islam was able to take the complex the site and decipher it’s hidden code into a profound simple geometry. Muzharul Islam again chooses brick as the main material because of our rich heritage of brick architecture and also it’s color and texture would play beautifully with the lash green setting. He also assumed that it would be a more maintenance free finish rather than plaster and paint. All the buildings in the campus are designed in a clear modern language, compositions of planes, solids and voids in sculptural geometric order.
Till date it remains a wonderful example of a situated architecture, of site and program relationship and sensitive understanding of context and climate. The strong forms are a testimony to Muzharul Islam’s commitment towards a Bengali Modernism untainted by any strings of superficial regionalism. Even in the strong geometric order in which he organizes the site, the elegant masses with their plays of solid and voids terraces and overhangs, the project resonates with a sensitive understanding of site and context, and the endeavor of the designer to transform our technique, material and architectural heritage into a coherent language of modern architecture.